The Steel Industry

Steel industry, Neath, Port Talbot, Wales (c) Adrian Warren and Dae Sasitorn

Britain from the Air - The Steel Industry

Steel is a global commodity with companies rushing to buy up the world’s iron ores.

The essential ingredient for the world’s industrial economy, steel is used in everything from bridges and railways to buildings and cutlery.

First, iron is made from a variety of different types of raw iron ore, imported from all over the world, each with a strikingly different colour. Blend other minerals and metals with the iron and it becomes the durable and bendable product known as steel.

World demand for steel has rocketed in the last 10 years as China and India have developed. To meet its huge appetite for steel, China is now by far the largest producer of it the world has ever known.

In 2013 alone China produced 779 million tonnes - 30 times that made by Britain at its peak. To sustain its future supply China is buying rights to iron ore reserves worldwide.

The decline of the British steel industry

At the moment in Britain we have just two fully operational integrated steel works, in Port Talbot and Scunthorpe. Not surprisingly they are located on the coast so that bulk shipping carriers can easily deliver both raw ore supplies and coal to power the production process.

In 1875, Britain was the biggest steel producer in the world, accounting for almost 40% of all steel made. By the early 1900s, America had overtaken Britain.

The British steel industry remained buoyant into the 1970s, boosted by demand after the Second World War and more than £1billion of investment. The decline of British steel production from the 1980s onward was partly a result of cheaper production in many newly industrialising countries. 

In 1971 556,000 Britons were employed in the metals industries, currently there are about 68,000.

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Location: Steel industry, Neath, Port Talbot, Wales, SA13 1RH
Grid reference: SS 76192 88161

Britain from the Air - The Steel Industry credits

Thank you to -

Adrian Warren and Dae Sasitorn for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Steel is the most recycled material in the world. In the USA over 80% of it is recycled; more than aluminium, paper, glass and plastic combined.